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Killings, arrests of Asturias mine opponents protested

26 Matulungin St. Central Dist., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 1100
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19 October 2017

Killings, arrests of Asturias mine opponents protested

Environmental activists from the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Enironment (Kalikasan PNE) joined over a hundred farmers and fisherfolk from the town of Calatagan, Batangas province in picketing the central offices of the Asturias Chemical Industries and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The groups protested the recent spate of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, and harassment cases against their ranks opposing the company’s limestone mining project.

“There is a brutal shadow war being waged against the stalwart dissenters opposing business tycoons Ramon Ang and Eduardo Cojuangco’s Asturias mining project. Two peasant leaders have already been killed will five others have been illegally arrested, detained, and filed with trumped up charges. A despotic mine such as Asturias should immediately be closed down,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

Last August 3, peasant leader Lito Casalla of the Samahan ng Magbubukid sa Batangas (SAMBAT) was shot dead by unknown assailants on a car. This was followed by the assassination of Engracio delos Reyes, vice president of the Samahan ng Maliliiit na Mangingisda at Magsasaka sa Calatagan (SMMMC) last September 3. Both groups are known staunch oppositionists to the entry of Asturias.

It can be recalled that Daisy Ayo, a local member of Gabriela Southern Tagalog based in Calatagan who was also a known opponent of the mining project, was a victim of frustrated murder by unknown gunmen last 2012.

Just last October 6, five locals now collectively known as the ‘Calatagan 5’—Noel Delos Reyes, Eduardo Penafloreda, Senando Marco, Allan Dimaisip, and Joseph Marasigan—were arrested by police and imprisoned over trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. All five are affiliated with the Samahan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda ng Baha at Talibayog (SMMBT), another local people’s organization that also opposes Asturias’ project. Previously, the SMMBT was also filed with charges of physical injury in 2008 by Asturias security personnel but was later dismissed due to lack of evidence.

“The 730th combat group of the Philippine Air Force and the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army have intensified the militarization of our anti-mining communities in Calatagan. These mercenary troops are attempting to hasten the full displacement of farmers and fisherfolks from our resource-rich lands,” said Agaton Bautista, secretary general of SAMBAT, who led the protest caravan from the mining-besieged province.

Asturias has a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau which gave the company license to exploit over 808 hectares of the land for its limestone. The MPSA was issued covering the disputed area despite the peasants already having an “Emancipation Patent” over these lands.

“Ramon Ang is hell-bent on expediting the operations of Asturias so he can begin producing cement for the construction of their San Miguel Complex and Industrial Park. Asturias thus poses not only the threat of destructive large-scale mining but also a boom in dirty and destructive industrial infrastructure,” explained Clemente.

Aside from raising their demands against the controversial large-scale mine, the groups also urged the DOJ to review the recent spate of killings and human rights violations in Calatagan, Batangas. They called for the immediate release and dropping of charges against the ‘Calatagan 5’, and also demanded for an immediate investigation into the worsening militarization in communities covered by the Asturias’ project area.#